Thursday 23 November 2017

Television is only made for children, moans Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry. Photo: Getty Images
Stephen Fry. Photo: Getty Images

Anita Singh

Broadcasters no longer make programmes for intelligent adults, according to Stephen Fry, who claimed last nght that British television has been "infantilised".

Doctor Who is a show for children yet the BBC trumpets it as a drama, Fry said. Challenging, interesting programmes, once the mainstay of the schedules, have all but disappeared, he lamented.

Speaking at Bafta, where he delivered the Annual TV Lecture, the writer, comedian and broadcaster said: “Infantilism is the problem. It’s just shocking. The only dramas the BBC will shout about are Doctor Who and Merlin. They are wonderful programmes, don’t get me wrong, but they are not for adults.

“It’s children’s TV. I’m not saying TV should be pompous and academic, but it should surprise and astonish and say there’s a world outside we know nothing of.”

Characters are simplified and plots reduced so even an idiot could understand them, he said, adding: “You’re told what is a good thing and what is a bad thing’. You have a villain or a hero. In the first five minutes you have to know he’s like that because he’s got problems at home, she’s like that because she’s lost her faith, or whatever. Everything is given to you. Nothing is given time.

“We are so used to laughing at the Americans because they are so 'vulgar’ and 'stupid’, but you watch good American TV and it has maturity and surprise.

“The more TV trusts that adults are not children, the better our TV will be.” He held up Sir David Attenborough’s natural history programmes as a rare example of shows which have not been dumbed down.

Fry, whose television credits include Blackadder, QI and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, lamented the fact that television is no longer “the nation’s fireplace”.

The 52-year-old reminisced about growing up during the “golden age” of television, citing programmes such as The Avengers, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, The Ascent of Man and dramas from the likes of Ken Loach, Dennis Potter and Alan Bennett.

It was an era when families gathered around the television set and programmes could be landmark events. However, times have changed.

“The 24 million who tuned in to Eric and Ernie’s Christmas shows can never be assembled together to watch a television show again” Fry said.

Fry also gave an impassioned defence of the BBC and rounded on its critics, particularly listeners and viewers who contact the corporation to express their distaste at particular programmes.

"People who have nothing better to do than phone a television station at night are, by definition, desperately in need of help,” he said.

“I read before I came here that 564 people rang the BBC to complain about vuvuzelas. Did they imagine the BBC could go into the stadium and wrench them from people’s lips? Some technical way they could stop the sound being heard? Un-be-arsing-lievable. These are the people with whom the BBC has to deal.”

The BBC should not entertain the views of “vexatious, unhappy people who want to criticise Fiona Bruce’s use of blusher”, he said, while he dismissed those who hold the BBC to account for the way it spends the licence fee - “who think we have the right to expect executives to travel coach class” - as “bordering on the pathologically cruel”.

The BBC cannot please all of the people all of the time, nor should it, Fry argued. “If you get a bad olive in a tin of olives, even a whole bad tin of olives, you throw it away but you don’t make that much of a fuss about it. But with the BBC we have this thing: I own it, I pay for it because I have a TV licence. I would be shocked if all TV was what I liked. It would be weird.”

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